HHS Given Flexibility to Create Workable System, Not Just More Red Tape

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, successfully amended the Senate stimulus package to allow the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide necessary flexibility and consider the costs of compliance as health care providers begin to implement new requirements for health information technology (HIT).  Under the current legislation, providers are required to document each time an electronic record is released so that patients know who has accessed their private health information.  However, the original language could have placed enormous cost and administrative burden on health care providers, without making the information useful to individuals.  Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) cosponsored the amendment.
"I am a big proponent of disclosure in health care and other areas.  However, we need to make sure that the processes we create to foster transparency as we expand the use of electronic medical records are neither impractical nor overly burdensome.  This amendment gives providers time to create an efficient system that makes sense for all parties," said Senator Kohl.
In early stimulus negotiations, Senator Kohl was also responsible for the inclusion of several other provisions in the stimulus, as detailed below.
  • Long-Term Care (LTC) Facilities Eligible for HIT Funding:  Senator Kohl successfully amended the stimulus package to ensure that LTC facilities are eligible for HIT funding.  Specifically, Kohl expanded the general definition of "health care provider" to also include nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities, in addition to skilled nursing facilities and home health entities. 
  • Loans for Hospitals to Upgrade Existing HIT Systems:  The stimulus includes provisions to invest in hospitals and reduce health care costs through the promotion of health information technology (HIT).  Senator Kohl successfully amended the stimulus to include loans for hospitals that had the foresight to adopt HIT and improve their services before direct federal funds were made available to them.  The loans would provide these early adopters with funding so that they are able to meet new federal privacy and compatibility standards.
  • Increased Privacy Protection for Personal Health Records:  Senator Kohl included a provision to strengthen the privacy protections in the HIT section of the stimulus.  In its original form, the stimulus did not require personal health record (PHR) vendors, such as Microsoft or Google, to protect the health information they imported.  Senator Kohl clarified the intent of Congress with report language to ensure that all PHR vendors face the same privacy requirements.
  • Support for AoA Funding Allocation:  Senator Kohl ensured the inclusion of language that would urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allocate a portion of the bill's funding for prevention to the Administration on Aging's (AoA) evidence-based disease prevention and wellness programs.  These AoA programs have served nearly 30,000 older adults in twenty-seven states since 2003 and have saved Medicare up to $300 million.
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